Where to Find Your Christmas Feast in the National Park System
‘Tis the season for quiet and peace, snowy woods, frosty starry nights, time with loved ones, festive activities, and eating way too much food. What better way to accomplish all that than to spend the holidays at a national park?
Here are just a few lodges that’ll be decking the halls this season. Have a favorite that isn’t mentioned? Please add it in the comments!
Big Bend National Park, Texas
In Texas, it has become an annual tradition for travelers to make the trek into the southwestern desert of Big Bend to spend Christmas and ring in the New Year at Chisos Mountains Lodge. It’s reminiscent of coming home to enjoy some of the holiday delights as the staff serves up an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet in the restaurant overlooking one the prettiest locations in the park – the Window into a valley.
On Christmas Day, they’ll be serving up oven-roasted turkey and honey-glazed ham, just like Grandma used to make. These dishes will keep company with mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean almandine, corn with sweet peppers, cranberry sauce, sweet yeast rolls, a salad bar, and freshly made pumpkin and pecan pies.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee
Slip away to the Smokies to spend your days in the cool forest or in cozy local artisan studios, and your nights in front of crackling fireplaces in private cabins or the lodge. Fontana Village boasts the Mountview Bistro and the Bear’s Den Lounge next door, which sit at the top of the valley and offer scenic views into the park.
Come for Christmas for a buffet with turkey, ham, and the traditional trimmings. Or come on New Year’s Eve for dinner, live music from the Caribbean Cowboys, and fireworks at midnight on the Village Green.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
It’s a winter wonderland at Mount Rainier, and you can take ranger-guided one-mile snowshoe walks to learn how the plants and animals of Mount Rainier adapt to the world-record snowfalls. Winter recreation opportunities abound. Skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and winter camping are allowed in various parts of the park, and the snowplay area at Paradise is set to open on Dec. 19, with sledding and sliding allowed.
Warm up on Christmas day at the National Park Inn at Longmire, where a special buffet will feature herb-crusted prime rib, cranberry and walnut glazed ham, both scalloped and rosemary mashed potatoes, a winter mix of veggies, roasted butternut squash, and scrumptious desserts such as peppermint ice cream.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Santa will arrive at Lake Quinault Lodge, on the park’s southwestern edge, with a pack llama on Christmas Eve, then read Twas the Night Before Christmas and have cookies and milk and presents for the kids. Stay at the lodge, and you can roast chestnuts (and s’mores) on an open fire while hearing classical guitar and Celtic harp from Ben and Lorrie Parris.
A few days later, you can dance at the semi-formal New Year’s Eve Ball; local singer/songwriter Corey Daniels and the Humptulips will perform.
Or head to the Kalaloch Lodge on the Pacific Coast for delicious Christmas meals: Smoked salmon Benny and steak and eggs for breakfast, and surf and turf (prime rib and prawns) for dinner.
Stick around for a New York-style New Years’ celebration, with a dinner featuring a New York strip steak and New York cheesecake. They’ll make a champagne toast to the New Year at 9 p.m. and watch the ball drop at Times Square.
Both lodges are bringing holiday cheer with a “Tis the Season” package and specials on lodging and meals through Dec. 30, with prices starting at just $218.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Near Marys Lake Lodge are snow-filled forests and white-capped peaks ripe for photography, quiet walks, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter backcountry adventures. And then there’s dinner.
On Christmas day, the menu includes chef-carved turkey, prime rib au jus and horseradish cream, holiday ham and boneless pork loin with a cinnamon/cocoa/chili powder rub and blueberry mango mint salsa. Side dishes range from the traditional, sour cream and chive Yukon Gold potatoes, to four cheese/Italian sausage au gratin. Among the six desserts are white chocolate blackberry bread pudding and tiny packages of sweetness, petit fours.
The lodge will be full of live music each day, from holiday tunes to blues, folk, rock, pop, funk, and classics. Hear the Wendy Woo Band during the New Year’s Eve Party, where you can take part in a champagne toast and midnight balloon drop.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
The hills are alive with the sound of music at family camp resort Montecito Sequoia Lodge between Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, so bring along your musical instruments and best singing voice. From Dec. 21–26, singer and guitarist Craig Copeland, a top recording artist in Los Angeles, and violinist Dave Dally and cellist Margie Dally from the Monterey String Quartet will play during wine tastings and sing-a-longs. Then pianist and musical entertainer Rob Bowers, a.k.a. “Player,” will take over until Jan. 2.
Other holiday fun includes arts and crafts, music and theater workshops, cookie baking and decorating, cooking with Chef Cardona, visiting with Santa, drinking eggnog, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, building snow caves, and playing on the tubing hill, and scarfing down Christmas dinner and a New Year’s feast with all of the traditional and not-so-traditional trimmings.
As an additional reason to celebrate, lodging rates are nearly half off Dec. 21-25.
Yellowstone National Park, Montana and Wyoming
Wintertime offers a completely different experience at Yellowstone, so spend your holidays at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel or Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Both serve as a perfect home base for winter-fun activities such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowcoaching, snowmobiling, and ice skating.
From Old Faithful Snow Lodge, you can take a winter photo safari, a day trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a tour of thermal features at Firehole Basin, and the after-dark Steam Stars & Winter Soundscapes adventure, or just get a massage. From Mammoth, try the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone day tour, wildlife tours of the Lamar Valley, and the Norris Geyser Basin Tour.
Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel has posted a Christmas Dinner Buffet menu that promises peel-and-eat shrimp, roast turkey, sautéed trout, carved prime rib, cranberries, potatoes, beans and carrots, plus plum pudding with hard sauce and pumpkin pie.
On Dec. 27 and New Year’s Day, they’ll have a Champagne Breakfast Buffet with all manner of eggs, cheese blintzes, French toast, bacon and sausage, seafood crepes, and more.
For New Year's Eve dinner, you can choose from roast Cornish game hen, grilled bison tenderloin, pan-seared sea scallops, surf and turf, and more.
Yosemite National Park, California
For creative holiday ideas, it doesn’t get much better than the Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite. For this spectacular three-hour Christmas pageant, the Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite Valley is transformed into the majestic hall of American author Washington Irving’s legendary “Squire Bracebridge.” This Yuletide gala is complete with a seven-course gourmet dinner, costumed characters, lively carols and dancing. Eight performances take place from mid-December through Christmas. The lodge holds a New Year’s Eve Dinner/Dance as well.
Across the valley floor, the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls offers feasts as well. On last year’s Christmas dinner menu were a roast duckling “Bigarade” with herb polenta, applewood bacon braised greens, and blood orange gastrique; a Chorizo stuffed pork loin; a grilled Pacific swordfish, and rosemary roast prime rib of beef. For New Year's Eve, they served a chilled seafood trio with vanilla vodka prawns, saffron poached scallop, and oysters on the half shell, seared pork belly with herb cheddar polenta, and pumpkin gnocchi—and those were just the appetizers. Pheasant, Alaskan King Crab legs and chocolate lava cake were on the menu, too. Look for similar temptations this year. And stay for a live band and dancing at the New Year’s Eve celebration.
At the Evergreen Lodge this season, you can take a “Range of Light” Yosemite Valley Naturalist Tour of scenic vistas, waterfalls, and meadows; a guided snowshoe walk to a grove of Giant Sequoias; the Wapama Falls Hike in Hetch Hetchy Valley; and the “Owl Prowl,” a walk (or snowshoe) through secluded old growth forest to find a Great Gray Owl and to watch the sunset from the rim of the Tuolumne River Canyon.
Back at the ranch, decorate your own Christmas flamingo or Christmas stocking, make cookies and letters for Santa, and attend the tree lighting ceremony. Then come for the Old World Christmas Feast with goodies such as Maine lobster bisque, Muscovy duck breast salad, grilled quail with quince marmalade, slow-roasted Christmas goose, dry aged Black Angus filet mignon, jumbo prawns with lemongrass and ginger-infused bamboo rice, dark chocolate mousse profiteroles and guava crème brulee.
New Year's Eve at the lodge means an evening of gaming, dining, dancing and decadence, including a cochinillo asado (whole roasted suckling pig basted with Belgian ale), Kobe beef tataki, Moroccan wild game, branzino (roasted Mediterranean sea bass stuffed with herbs and Meyer lemon) and decadent desserts such as homemade sugar plums.
Just south of Yosemite, the Tenaya Lodge is virtually assured of a "white Christmas." It offers sleigh bells in the snow and a High Sierra mountain lodge with roaring fireplaces, large windows with forest vistas, and a 34-foot White Fir tree, purported to be the largest Christmas tree in the Yosemite area.
Holiday activities feature Christmas day buffets, family portrait sessions in the hotel lobby, morning nature hikes and evening flashlight hikes, and spa services. Go skiing, snowboarding or cross-country skiing at nearby Badger Pass ski area, or try snowshoeing or ice skating with views of Half Dome and Glacier Point in full view.
Not far inside the southern gate is the Wawona Hotel, where a Victorian holiday takes place. Gather around for games, story reading, caroling and old time sing-alongs with piano player Tom Bopp, crafts, and hot cider and cookies. On the Christmas dinner menu are grilled maple brined pork loin with mustard and sage, broiled port wine glazed fresh salmon filet, roast turkey roulade, butternut squash risotto, plus soups and salads and desserts.
The New Years Eve Early Bird dinner includes Slow Roasted Angus Beef Prime Rib, Grilled Salmon Filet, Grilled Pork Loin, and Creamy Winter Vegetable Risotto. There will also be a New Years' Eve Dinner/Dance and a New Year’s Day Brunch.
With so much feasting available, don't forget to squeeze in time for a hike, snowshoe or ski afterwards!